“Don’t you agree that sex is at the core of personality?”

“I don’t know,” she said. “people are complicated.”

People certainly are and Mary Gaitskill builds on this short exchange in her excoriating new book, THIS IS PLEASURE.

There are two narrators – Quinn, a man accused of sexual harassment in the workplace, an accusation that has cost him his career as an editor at a publishing house, and Margot a friend and colleague of many years standing – and so we get a subjective view and an objective view of a man and his behaviour.

Quin married with a young daughter, is a self proclaimed flirt. He says he flirts to to feel alive without being unfaithful. His wife says that infidelity is more normal and astonishingly admonishes him for being not even a predator but a fool. Does foolishness trump philandering?

Readers may also be astonished by Margot’s assertion, “Women are like horses. They want to be led but they want to be respected. If you don’t respect them they will throw you off and prance around the paddock while you lie bleeding.”

Is that the bridle party bristling with indignation?

The pleasure of reading difficult stories, stories that achieve a degree of moral honesty and emotional space is the pleasure to be found in THIS IS PLEASURE.

One man’s flirting may be one woman’s conception of microaggression. And what is the difference between hurt and offended?
How do you express desire without putting pressure on people? Is to seduce to reduce? The question, surely, is how men show their interest – with respect and courtesy or with aggression or a sense of entitlement.

Mary Gaitskill has been called the poetess of wounded eroticism and THIS IS PLEASURE certainly cements and consolidates that mantle as she charts the tempests and tumults of emotion and desire with drop dead cool prose.

THIS IS PLEASURE by Mary Gaitskill published by Serpents Tail